Convention says that in order to be a successful author, you must write a good book, get a good agent, and find a good publisher.
Convention be damned!
I failed miserably trying to follow the “traditional publishing” route. Publishers and agents wouldn’t give me the time of day, let alone read my manuscript.
I’m not sure if there’s anything more humiliating than spending days researching how to write a query letter, writing dozens or hundreds of personalized query letters, and then sending them out and getting no response, or just a copy/paste rejection letter.
Luckily for me, someone told me I could skip the whole traditional publishing route and just upload my book to Kindle a few years ago. Twelve months later, I had my first $12,000+ month from Kindle sales alone.
First, you need to understand the three pieces of the publishing pie, and how they stack up when you’re traditionally published vs. self published.
How Publishing Works
Whether you opt for self-publishing or traditional, these are the three steps you’ll inevitably encounter.
1. Writing a Book
A traditional publisher will help with the editing part of the writing process. That’s great.
If you’re self-published, you’ll have to hire your own editor, or, if you’re lucky, you have friends who are great editors who will do it for free.
2. Publishing Your Book
A traditional publisher will do all the publishing work for you, including cover design, formatting, layout, printing, distributing, collecting cash, paying out royalties, etc.
As a self published author, you’ll have to do all that work yourself or hire a contractor to do some of it for you.
3. Marketing Yourself
A traditional publisher will do somewhere between 0% and 50% of the marketing for you, depending on how lucky you are. You’ll still have to do at least 50% of the marketing work (but more likely 90%).
As a self-published author, you’ll have to do 100% of the marketing for yourself, a little bit more than you would if you were traditionally published.
Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Here’s why I believe self-publishing is a far superior option for most authors.
Of course, not everyone should self-publish, and not everyone will want to. But, for those of you who are brave and willing to throw away convention, the journey is well worth it.
Time Is More Valuable Than Money
Despite popular opinion, time is indeed far more valuable than money. You can always get more money, but you can never get more time. Every second counts.
That’s not just a cliche – that’s life. Life is short. Do you really want to spend years of your life kissing ass just to get your book published?
Even if you assume that every author will earn less money self-publishing than they would with a traditional publisher, the amount of time you save self publishing will be worth it.
In traditional publishing, this is how your time will be irrevocably spent:
1) Looking for agents and publishers
2) Figuring out how to write the “perfect” query letter
3) Writing query letters
4) Submitting manuscripts
5) Pretending like you care what agents and publishers think
6) Doing due diligence on agents and publishers to make sure they’re not going to screw you
7) Listening to someone else tell you how and why you should change your book
8) Changing your book to suit the opinion of “experts” instead of the only opinions that actually count – that of yourself and your readers
9) Waiting a few weeks until the publisher responds to a simple email or request (a common complaint among my friends who are traditionally published authors)
10) Waiting for months or years until your book is actually published
Earning More Money from Your Books
Now, if you could guarantee that you’d earn more money with a traditional publisher, one could argue that all this wasted time is worth that extra cash. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Many authors find they earn more money self-publishing – and not just “small-time” authors like me only selling a few thousand copies a month. Hugh Howey has sold millions of books and still self-publishes his ebooks. Why? Because he knows he’s going to earn a lot more that way (see Hugh Howey on Self vs. Traditional Publishing)
No, Self Publishing Isn’t Easy
I’m not saying self publishing is easy or perfect or the solution for poverty, world hunger and cancer, all wrapped into one (but wouldn’t that be nice?).
You’ll have to spend time on a lot of basic activities to set yourself up for success, especially in the beginning. You’ll have to either build a team or build up your own skills in these areas:
You’ll definitely want a good editor on your team.
2) Cover Design
Cover design is a huge key to success. Nothing screams “don’t buy my book!” more than a homemade book cover that looks like my two-and-a-half year old nephew got hold of an Apple II and started a cover design business (I believe in you Elijah!).
3) Formatting and Layout
Every year, it’s getting easier and easier to format and layout books for print and ebook versions, so you can learn to do it yourself pretty easily. See our free training video at on formatting your book for Kindle.
If you’re looking to self publish your book in paperback, check out the free video from author Michelle Booth on How To Format A Book for Paperback with CreateSpace Publishing
Boo! The scary word for authors. Guess what, even if you don’t self-publish, you’ll still have to learn how to market yourself and your books if you want to sell more than a handful of copies.
These books should be required reading for all authors on marketing:
Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday
The Perfection of Marketing by James Connor
80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall
61 Ways to Sell More Nonfiction Books by Steve Scott (even if you write fiction, read it!)
You’re also going to need to find reviewers to review your books. Don’t spend a dime on this (except for the cost of giving away free books). Here’s how to find some great reviewers for free: How To Get Unlimited High Quality Amazon Reviews.
There are also now hundreds of hybrid or non-traditional publishers who can help as well. Hybrid publishers will do some or all of the work a traditional publisher would normally do.
However, their fee structures and royalty rates may vary considerably. Some hybrid publishers may help you get your book to market much faster, others may provide great marketing support and guidance, and others may take your money and run. You’ll just have to do the research on your own if you’re looking for a non-traditional publisher (or any publisher, including yourself).
The Formula for Success
Whether you decide to go with a traditional publisher, hybrid publisher or publish yourself, you’ll still have to follow the formula for success:
1) Write the Best Books You Can
All you can do is write the best book you can. You don’t have to be the best writer in the world. Just be the best you can be. That means practicing regularly, if not daily. That means studying other great writers and constantly learning how to get better.
2) Learn How To Become a Better Marketer
Again, you don’t have to be the best in the world. You just have to get better than you are right now. Study great marketers. A good rule of thumb in marketing is that you’ll have to try 50 different marketing tactics until you find one that produces amazing results (profits). Then just perfect that marketing process while you test another 50 new marketing ideas.
3) Keep Trying New Things Until You Find Something That Works. Then Keep Doing More of That
Last but not least, just keep trying new things. The world of publishing is changing so fast. What worked yesterday might not work today. And what didn’t work yesterday might make you rich today. But you’ll never know until you try.
P.S. If you’re looking for a non-traditional publisher who can help you with publishing and marketing, check out our submission guidelines.